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India to have 18-22 crore vaccine doses by September, ZyCoV D could take longer to hit market

The increase in vaccine procurement is good news in terms of daily vaccination numbers, but govt's stated target of 1 crore daily vaccinations still some time away.

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New Delhi: The Modi government estimates that around 18-22 crore Covid-19 vaccine doses will be available in September, but this will most likely not include the ZyCoV D vaccine that received emergency use approval Friday.

While manufacturer Zydus Cadila says ZyCoV D could be available by the end or even middle of September, government officials say it is still too early to talk about procurement.

Covishield and Covaxin doses, and Sputnik V, if manufacturing in India meets the deadlines announced, will continue to make up the government’s vaccination programme.

Late Friday, the Department of Biotechnology under the Ministry of Science and Technology, in an official statement announced that ZyCoV D had been given emergency use authorisation. The vaccine is the world’s first DNA vaccine against Covid-19.

“It is still too early to start talking about procurement. There is no clarity on when commercial production will start and what are the numbers they (Zydus Cadila) are looking at … As per policy, the Government of India will procure Covid-19 vaccines made in India,” a senior official in the health ministry told ThePrint.

Both Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya and the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO), the national drugs regulatory body, in separate tweets made it clear that India now has a sixth Covid vaccine in its basket.

These include the three currently in use (Covishield, Covaxin and Sputnik V) as well as those not available yet, such as Moderna’s mRNA vaccine and Johnson and Johnson (J&J)’s Janssen vaccine. Both Moderna and J&J have been struggling with the indemnity question.

Meanwhile, Zydus is yet to take a call on the pricing of its vaccine and it could be another two weeks before that decision is made, Zydus Group managing director, Dr Sharvil Patel said Saturday. For the government, the question of procurement is intricately linked to the pricing.

Also read: Covid vaccines for children could be available by September, Bharat Biotech & NIV say

Procurement modeling

The September vaccine availability projections, government officials say, are based on the manufacturing numbers submitted by the vaccine manufacturers. While this is a significant upward move — going up to 46 per cent from 20 per cent from the August numbers of 15 crore doses — this will still mean that the stated target of administering 1 crore vaccine doses per day will not be met in September. The government had originally claimed this would happen by July.

“We are looking at 20 crore doses plus may be a little more. The 20 crore will be from Covishield and Covaxin, and the plus may be some Sputnik or some Bio E. ZyCoV D may come also,” a second government official told ThePrint.

Also read: 9 months on, these 4 places in India have achieved 100% vaccination with first dose

SII’s Sputnik test doses in September

One of the reasons why India’s vaccine programme, though on a steady month-on-month rise in average daily vaccinations, has not met the stated targets is because of logistical challenges Indian companies have been facing in manufacturing Sputnik V, especially the second dose that uses a different adenovirus vector than the first one, top officials in the government said.

“The earlier Sputnik V deadlines could not be met because of logistical challenges. We have reached out to the companies to get a sense of new deadlines but would not like to give one as yet for the procurement of Sputnik V vaccines,” the second official quoted above said.

ThePrint reached Panacea Biotech, Gland Pharma, Hetero Biopharma, Stellis Bipopharma and Virchow Biotech — companies contracted to manufacture Sputnik V in India — over email to understand the issues in the manufacturing of the Russian vaccine, but did not receive a response till the time of publishing this report.

A spokesperson for Serum Institute of India, which has a manufacturing deal for Sputnik V, said, “We will start the test batches (of Sputnik V) in September.”

Currently, the vaccines are being supplied only in the private sector and are not part of the free vaccine drives being organised by the government.

(Edited by Manasa Mohan)

Also read: India is preparing for another Covid surge but low vaccine coverage leaves it vulnerable


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